There’s no doubt in my mind that everyone who attended Jason’s first movie premiere had a great time. Before going to the screening in Hoboken, we all met at Fat Black Pussycat for happy hour drinks and we eventually all commuted together into Jersey on the PATH train. If I’m 100% honest, I knew that what Jason had accomplished with his first movie was pretty cool, but really, I was just there to support him. Jason could’ve sold ice in the winter and I’d buy it simply because he was my boy, and that’s just the way it was.
It’s only now in hindsight that I can have a real understanding and appreciation for what he did. We were kids… This was 3 years after college graduation and he had a whole movie out! That means he wrote a screenplay, took it to production, which probably meant building a budget, sourcing cameras and camera operators, deciding on wardrobe, set locations and lighting, getting other actors and props, and then post production editing and finding places to screen the finished product, which I wouldn’t know the first thing about. It’s a lot. It’s involved, yet so tentative. A lot of room for error, and exit signs everywhere.
He was a talent, and he was chasing a dream as if there were no headwind. We’re all human, and I don’t want to assume that he dealt with the same kind of imposter syndrome I’ve had over the years, but knowing Jason’s humility, there must’ve been at least ONE moment where he asked himself “can I actually do this?” but decided to go for it anyway. He ran full force towards the manifestation of his visions and just kept going.
Later came more films, other premieres, and more support from all of us who believed in him, including me. Yes, we all loved the guy, but I don’t want to obscure the fact that this is a brief attempt to compartmentalize our love and blind support of anything he did to truly recognize what he did in his lifetime. It is objectively incredible! It was… Some of us are *just* beginning to solidify things for ourselves, or maybe still too timid to go for your wildest dreams (and that’s ok– we all have different journeys), but the point of this all is to bring focus to what an absolute badass he was. How determined he was. How courageous he was. It’s inspiring.
A loss like this usually makes people confront their own mortality. It makes things a little more urgent. You examine all the things you want to say and do and you realize it’s now or never. I admire people who don’t wait for these harsh reminders to live wholeheartedly. I want to be one of those people. Jason was one of those people.
So the question I’m posing to myself and whoever would dare accept the challenge is: What are you waiting for? The thing you want to do, the words you want to say, the experiences you want to have– what is holding you back from just doing it? Is a fear of failure? Of rejection? Or is it vulnerability? Of going broke, or looking stupid?
If you’re reading this, consider that you’re deemed *lucky* if you get to live to double your current age, at least. Then also consider that our lives as we know it have passed like a blink of an eye. In another blink, we’ll be 80, if we’re lucky.
So now, all of that considered… what is worse, the fear of trying something, or the fear of regret?
I’m not going to sit here and philosophize on my thoughts about how anyone should live their lives, but I can say with certainty that Jason showed love every opportunity he got, and he did what he wanted to do. He reached for his dreams and lived with his entire heart. He set an example of what it’s like to truly live a life, and iI think the ultimate tribute, the ultimate celebration of his memory would be to let that inspire you.
There’s stuff I want to do, dreams I’d like to see made reality in my lifetime, and I occasionally hear a voice that says “just fucking do it”… It’s a certain voice. That warm and smart-alecky voice we all know, and I’ve promised that I will do it. I am doing it.
Something I’m terribly ashamed to admit is that in the last few years, I hadn’t been in much contact with him. Not because i didn’t want to, but simply put, life got in the way…
Life got in the way.
Blah. Sounds like such a damn cop-out. It makes my stomach turn. I accept that guilt changes absolutely nothing, and I do ultimately manage to debate myself out of that futile spiral about 10 times a day…
We last connected when my daughter was born, March 2019. I texted him from my hospital bed, and in that blissful moment with my magical little love, I sent him a picture of Sofia. At the time of that text, it had already been a few years since we last corresponded and seen each other, and yet in this incredibly joyful moment, i had the presence of mind to reach out to him and share my happy news. This is the one realization that’s keeping me sane. That we were able to pick up where we left off, there was never ever any love lost in this instance or ever, and that my regard for him remained sky high—high enough to think “I gotta text Jason!”.
I experience moments of regret for not having had more of those inclinations to take a minute out of my busy life to be more present for him or others, but in my heart I know the truth is that i could not have changed anything–I did the best I could managing two small kids and everything that comes with that. So I try hard to regret nothing. It’s a wasted emotion and a poor use of time. I can say that in my life thus far, everything has occurred exactly as it’s supposed to, and that’s usually my philosophy on life in general..but *this* has put a crack in my faith. Does everything really happen exactly as it’s supposed to? Really? It’s a hard thing to accept on a normal day… but It’s a harder thing to reconcile in times like these.
Lately I have extra gratitude for Sofia. Her arrival propelled me back into my friend’s inbox, and while that was long ago and brief, it was a solid exchange of love during one of the best moments in my life, and I think that counts for something… right? I get to look at her now and be reminded “Jason was so happy you were born”.
I really wanted to tie all these words up in a pretty bow and attempt to say something insightful about life’s beginnings and endings, and the beauty that can be extracted from a birth and a transition… but that would be a reach because the truth is much more basic, a little crueler, maybe a little less poetic. The bare-bones reality is that our lives are literally just a series of fleeting moments in time, and it can all end in a second, for anyone, on any given day. It is an absolutely terrifying thought… But also what if we consider how beautiful we can make each one of those moments if we fully accept that reality, allow ourselves be present, and stop letting life get in the way?
I just really wish i had just one more moment to tell him how much he’s changed my life. Instead i’ll just have to show it to you all, and hope that he sees it too. My deepest gratitude to him, and everything that’s brought me to now.
Thank you thank you thank you.
Ten years ago today, November 20, 2011.
He was so excited to host his first “Pre-Thanksgiving Pot-Luck Party” at his place in Harlem. You could tell with each highly detailed email he sent. He enthusiastically gave updates on the 22lb turkey he found for us, got everyone to bring drinks and more food, sent itemized lists of the menu (I brought the lasagna!), sent out a hilarious invite with a picture of his head photoshopped onto a pilgrim, and he used lots and lots (LOTS) of different font sizes and formatting in each message. All of this is to say, he poured himself into this event and it turned out to be a stellar time! I remember dancing away with Be, my heart-to-heart with Kenny, catching up with Krista who I hadn’t seen in eons, and salivating over Elisa’s candied yams.
Jason was obsessed with taking photos of everyone all the time, so it was no surprise when he got his camera and rounded us all up in that small ass kitchen. There were so many of us that he stood up on a chair to get a good angle, and he insisted that we all make a funny face, just as he had done in like 96% of the pictures taken of him.
Somehow that singular shot captured the energy of that night. So much fun and the greatest vibes. Everyone in that room was there because they loved Jason, and by default we naturally had a mutual respect and love for one another. That’s the effect Jason had. I’d like to think of this picture as a giant mirror reflecting the bits of Jason that live inside us now…. and I’m 1000% sure that if he were physically present at this moment, he’d joke about him now being inside us. 🙂
These pictures are from the time I invited a bunch of friends over to my mom’s place for a home-cooked meal. My mom’s always eager to feed people, and I just really wanted to do something nice for my friends. A few of them were from out of state, so their own homes were too far to get to for a Sunday dinner, and having been raised with food as a love language, it kinda seemed like a no brainer to me. It was a good time. Everyone was blown away by my mom’s skills, and it gave me great joy to see everyone fall asleep on the sofas with food comas. Jason didn’t fall asleep – I would’ve had photographic evidence of that – though he did laugh at those who did!
For dessert there were cannolis from Catania’s Bakery on Fresh Pond Road in Ridgewood, Queens (best cannolis in all of NYC and it’s not even a debate), and I’m pretty sure everyone went back to their dorm rooms with additional plates of food because that’s just standard operating procedure where I’m from.
As I grieve, I find myself focusing on the details of these very specific moments in time. What we were eating, wearing, what song was playing, what date it was, what time it was, what else was happening on that same day…? For me, diving head first into the minutiae of it all is helpful, almost shielding, because I realize that if I let myself zoom back out, I see the big picture and reality hits again — Jason is gone. So diving into the forensics brings comfort. Maybe it’s distraction, maybe it’s avoidance and denial, but maybe its just my brain desperately trying to travel back in time, recreate that moment and try to keep my friend alive…
…and only because I got curious about that newspaper on the coffee table, it was October 5th, 2003. On that day the Yankees beat the Twins to get into the ALCS, and on the night before that some dude got mauled by a tiger in Harlem.
I took this picture my freshman year at St. John’s. For a lot of us, our work with Event Mgmt Staff is the origin story of our friendship with Jason. My other “brother” Tito was already an SJU student & building manager by the time I was enrolled, and he helped set me up with a job that would color my entire college experience and beyond. I’m pretty sure Jason was the first person I was paired off with for a shift in the UC, though that could be my brain distorting memories to try to bring him closer to me now. Who TF knows. All I know is good times were had from very the start. I vividly recall a few of my thoughts that stand out from those early days—“wow Jason is so nice” and “wow Jason must really love that huge black leather jacket…” lol. I also have clear visions of him in the staff office. When I’d see him I would make the shape of a heart with my fingers and hold it up to my heart. He’d do it right back, and sometimes he went first and I’d be the one reciprocating. Our little nonverbal “I heart you”….
I wish I could take a giant megaphone to the top of the highest mountain on Earth and yell “MY FRIEND JASON WAS THE BEST GUY EVER”… but these posts will have to do. For the record, i seldom, if ever, do stuff like this. I hate social media but I love Jason more, and I think it’s safe to say we’re all processing in the best way our brains will allow us to. I’m personally being drawn back to words and writing and that’ll serve well as my megaphone for now. I’m grateful to be able to reconnect with that creative part of me, and I suppose I have Jason to thank for that, though if I could make a deal with God, I would happily accept a lifetime of writer’s block in exchange for my friend’s return—easy. Obviously that’s not the way this works…so I’ll keep rambling within the character limit, use different variations of pretty laid out phrases, all ultimately saying the same thing: My friend Jason was the best guy ever. EVER.
What can I say about Jason, other than I’m utterly incapable of accepting that he’s gone?
I’ll start by saying that he was just pure freaking light. He was always a joy to be around, and luckily I got to be around him a lot. He’d show up to everything and for everyone, notably all my birthday parties, my mom’s house for dinner, misc happy hours, and simply when I needed an ear. For instance, I was once dating a dude that lived on 137th in Harlem and right when that relationship went up in flames I called Jason, who lived on 143rd. He listened to me cry and vent, comforted me and offered to quickly go kick the guy’s ass. He was a brother to me. He was smart, rockstar handsome, always kind, always a little pervy in the sweetest most gentlemanly way, and funny AF! He always made me laugh when I needed it. He was a go-getter. I mean, who else signed up for Ambit Energy because you knew your boy would be getting paid?! My light bills always reminded me of him, along with Rocky IV, Fat Black Pussycat (the bar!), 9/11, and so many other things, but that one birthday party at the Delancey was special…
It was the night before Hurricane Irene was threatening to swallow NYC whole (Jason would’ve made a great joke just now) but it was my birthday so we hit the Delancey in LES, and he showed up of course. Maybe it was just me, but I believe the thought of this hurricane wiping out the city and threatening our livelihoods just made us all dance a little harder. I’ll never forget it: “Keep on daaaancing till the world ends!” blared Britney Spears’ voice through the speakers, and the whole club went fucking nuts! It truly felt like the apocalypse but everyone decided to go down partying, us included. One of the most fun nights out ever.
I played that song on repeat today as I walked outside to try to catch my breath. In a way, the world has ended for a lot of us—the world as we knew it, where Jason was a sure bet to show up and without a doubt fill the room with love and the brightest of energies. Now we’re tasked with creating a new world where we dance even harder for him, even if he only shows up in spirit. My life will be forever marked by my dear friend Jason Drago—my badass friend who took risks, lived life to the fullest, and told me “i heart you” every opportunity that he got. I am so proud to have been his friend, and I am so lucky he was mine.